USDA Foreign Meat Audits Decreased By 60 Percent

11/08/2012

Meat inspection photoA recent investigation by Food Safety News found that the number of countries audited by U.S. officials has decreased by 60 percent. According to the recent article, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has become less transparent with regards to the issue. 

The USDA failed to make auditing reports public in a timely manner and only revealed the audited countries after repeated inquiries on the part of the publication. Some worry that recent budgetary constraints are impacting the agency’s ability to do its job with regard to imports. 

Food Safety News reports:

In-country audits are part of what the agency often calls a “triad of protection” for imported meat and poultry. First, USDA must establish “equivalency,” determining that the importing country has a food safety system in place that’s on par with the U.S. system. Once a country is given the go-ahead (only 34 countries are currently approved), the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service continually monitors the safety of imported products through strict re-inspection at the port of entry, by testing for dangerous pathogens, and by conducting “ongoing audits” to ensure the countries are living up to their equivalency designation.

“I’ve always considered our foreign inspection program one of the crown jewels of our food safety system,” Dr. Richard Raymond, the former Under Secretary for Food Safety, who led FSIS under the Bush administration told Food Safety News. “Frequent audits are important. Without them, people cut corners – it’s human nature.”

Online reports from FSIS show that between 2001 and 2008 foreign inspections were frequent with an average of 26.4 countries per year. Between 2009 and 2012 that number dropped to 9.8 countries per year.

Meanwhile outbreaks have increased with the CDC reporting an increase from 2005 to 2010, which showed 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses. But here's the kicker -- nearly half occurred in 2009 and 2010. A USDA report found that imports have grown from $41 billion in 1994 to $78 billion in 2007. 

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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